‘Ben-Hur’ is a story that seems all too familiar within the film world – originally written as a novel in 1880 by Lew Wallace, it was first made into a silent short in 1907, presented as a feature film in 1925, and then remade again in 1959 by William Wyler, which is the version that most people praise, before also being recreated as an animation in 2003. Now it’s been redone again, though this time the story has been changed slightly.
Judah (Jack Huston) is part of the rich Ben-Hur family of Jerusalem, who took in an orphan, Messala (Toby Kebbell), and the two became brothers. This is a slight deviation from the original plot, where the two are actually just good friends. Despite being integrated into the family Messala is still a Roman by origin, and so after feeling increasingly alienated by them all he enlists in the Roman army and goes off to fight, leaving on a less than happy note.
Three years later Messala finally returns, but things just aren’t what they were anymore. Judah has now married the family slave, Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) and him and Messala just don’t see eye-to-eye anymore. After the family are accused of treachery Messala sends them to be crucified – Judah is sentenced to a slave galley instead, and so begins his quest to find Messala and reconcile their relationship.
Despite the changes to the plot, I never really got the feeling from ‘Ben-Hur’ that anything new had been brought to the story, which rather made the whole remake seem like a bit of a waste. The film itself felt very long and disconnected – almost as if we were watching lots of related scenes stuck together, rather than just one plot. The action scenes were very exciting though, such as a gripping scene aboard a Roman galley, and of course the much anticipated chariot scene at the end (again though, it wasn’t as good as it could have been).
I think the main problem was that there was just nothing special about the film. The acting was okay, although Huston felt slightly miscast as Judah, which is rather an issue as the main character. I didn’t feel connected to any of the characters, and so the strange relationship between the two brothers did nothing to pique my interest (why Judah was even trying to make up with Messala after all that had happened just did not make sense to me). Even having Morgan Freeman cast as chariot racer Sheik Ilderim did nothing to aid the film, as his performance wasn’t astounding either.
One change I did like was that Jesus, played by Rodrigo Santoro, was much more featured in this version that the original, which gave it a nice moral edge. Santoro was probably one of the best bits of the film – his performance was excellent, and evoked more emotion from me than the rest of the characters put together.
Putting that positive to one side, there is something we need to talk about with historical films – inaccuracies. ‘Ben-Hur’ was littered with them this time round – from costume design to cultural errors these inaccuracies were rife, including even a major plot point. The mention of ‘progressivism’ was another - the concept did not exist in those times, and it was such an obvious error that it took your attention away from the story.
Failing to add anything original to a great story, ‘Ben-Hur’ is sadly Just Another Remake. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t that great either. 3/5
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